It happens often in electronic music. Labels, especially those founded by prolific auteurs, begin to revolve around a very specific aesthetic. Jesse Rose and Switch begat Dubsided and the fidget movement. Damian Lazarus and Jamie Jones helped propel Crosstown Rebels and the whole k-house trend. Now, there's the low-slung, space techno of Nicolas Jaar's Clown & Sunset label, which has found a faithful adherent to its sound in German producer Martin Gretschmann (a.k.a. Acid Pauli), at least with his debut full-length for the label.
Gretschmann doesn't exactly churn out some cookie-cutter rehash of Jaar or Clown & Sunset's other artists (although the similarity in the music here is uncanny); rather, he seems to have bonded with a group of talented and multifaceted artists that resonate within a shared aesthetic. A value at the center of everything Jaar and company do (see Clown & Sunset Aesthetics), it's easy to see why Gretschmann was readily welcomed into the fold. Prior to Acid Pauli, he has enjoyed distinct successes, both producing poppy electro as Console and as part of indie outfit the Notwist, more than proving his adabability as an artist in different genre schemes. The drawback to Mst is that the bespectacled studio whiz has done too good of a job of adapting to this particular project.
Almost too ironic in its title, "A Clone is a Clone" picks up where Jaar's Space is Only Noise left off, adopting the same style of slinky, 100-bpm groove laced with static washes, distorted big-band jazz flourishes, and a steady dub bassline. It does nothing for Gretschmann in terms of making an individualized statement, but it is a rock-solid and enjoyable interpretation nonetheless. "(La Voz) tan Tierra" draws on Jaar again, this time picking up his tango-esque tendencies from tracks like "Variations." Slowing the tempo, the track ambles along like a gaucho on horseback, with the thuds of hollow drums, the hum of woodwinds and accordion, and the crackle of some unearthed Spanish music from the '50s.
Much of Mst feels as if Gretschmann has embarked on a Clown & Sunset case study. There's the same intense focus on space, giving each track element room to breathe. On brief song sketch "Mutron Melody," a melancholy piano, a rainstick, and the fluctuating tempo of a jazz kit seem to be its only components. It serves as a pitch-perfect lead-in to "Eulogy of Eunice," which sees the swinging groove settle with plucked upright bass and little more than a rimshot keeping time. Its evolution into slow-burning techno soul is the one point that Acid Pauli beats his label head at his own game.
Elsewhere, attempts at freaking the formula end up as oddball caricatures of electronic easy listening. "Equation of Time" recalls vintage Jackie Gleason with its bass clarinet riffs and oompa-oompa cadence. When the xylophone and melodica pair up in the song's latter half, it comes off like the theme from Dexter, only re-adapted for a spaghetti western. "Requiem for a Loop" meets a similar fate, bouncing with a ragtime skank and more xylophone trills. At best, it's reminiscent of early acid-jazz downtempo from Ninja Tune, but you might find yourself asking how well this sound has aged.
All in all, too little of Mst lets us hear Gretschmann shine within this chosen framework. Arranged as it is, the album goes from Jaar mimicking to questionable experimentation. Not until the end does he find his stride. It's also when we finally find him. "Close" comes nearest the intimacy and introspection of the Notwist, which is a perfect complement to the C&S vibe. More often though, it plays out as a poor man's Nicolas Jaar, rarely standing apart enough to get out from under his shadow.